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Bethany’s Parkinson Forest added to Old-Growth Network

BETHANY — Parkinson Forest on the grounds of Bethany College has been added to the national Old-Growth Forest Network.

Parkinson Forest is the 11th site in West Virginia and the first in the Northern Panhandle to be included in the network.

“In each county, we look for the oldest forest [that is] open to the public, is relatively accessible, and protected from logging,” said Joan Maloof, Ph.D., founder of the Old-Growth Forest Network and professor emeritus at Salisbury University.

Only about 1 percent of old-growth forest remains in the East and less than 5 percent in the West, Maloof said. The network aims to identify and protect one forest in each of the U.S. counties where forests could grow, she said.

Maloof said the organization counts on volunteers to identify and nominate the forests.

Melanee Wigton Sinclair, professor and coordinator of field instruction in the Department of Social Work at the college, worked with the network to list Parkinson Forest.

Sinclair joined Bethany in 2003 but has lived in Wheeling for more than 40 years. She said she regularly biked the trail long before she knew of its historical significance.

“I think it’s a really exciting thing to think about preserving a treasure that we’ve been given,” she said. “That in a hundred years it will look much the same as it does now.”

She said the designation is important because it could draw people for hiking and other outdoor activities and it adds knowledge that it needs to be protected.

Margaret Parkinson deeded the forest to Bethany College in 1914 with a stipulation that it was to remain in its natural state.

In her will, Parkinson specifically states that “this timberland be kept as a protest against the wasteful destruction of our timber [so that] succeeding generations may know something of what the forest lands in this part of the country once were.”

Parkinson Forest covers 261 acres of woods with about 60 acres of old growth. The old-growth portion is dominated by sugar maple with American beech, white oak, red oak and tulip tree having an important presence in the canopy, according to the Old-Growth Forest Network. Some of the white oaks were cored about 40 years ago and were well more than 200 years old.

“It’s unique in the sense that it’s on a college campus,” Maloof said, noting that Dysart Woods in Ohio’s Belmont County, for example, is owned by Ohio University but isn’t on campus. “It seems that a lot of universities have forests, but they haven’t always protected them.”

The Parkinson Forest is accessible by the Bethany Trail System, which consists of five interconnected trails used by hundreds of people each year. The trails include a waterfall, numerous hiking spots and an outdoor classroom.

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